In 1960 a mysterious car crash killed Albert Camus and his publisher Michel Gallimard, who was behind the wheel. Giovanni Catelli builds a compelling case that the 46-year-old French Algerian Nobel laureate was the victim of premeditated murder: he was silenced by the KGB.
Conspiracy theories always have their allure. Yet not only does The Death of Camus not offer any evidence for its claims, it is so badly written throughout as to discredit itself immediately. Catelli’s prose makes Dan Brown’s look good. He piles on the adjectives, overstates every claim. He is particularly fond of calling upon 'fate'.You would not trust someone who writes as dreadfully as this to tell you how to boil an egg ... That’s enough for Catelli, though. He contacts Zabrana’s widow and has clandestine meetings with nameless men who possibly used to be in the Czech secret service. None confirms anything ... It is true that the KGB did assassinate many dissidents abroad, and that the French intelligence services at the time were heavily compromised by the Soviets. But the idea that General de Gaulle would have licensed the murder of France’s Nobel laureate, the author of The Outsider and The Plague — to prevent him criticising Khrushchev’s forthcoming state visit to France, Catelli further suggests — is not credible.
In short, staccato chapters, Mr. Catelli recounts his investigation into the circumstances surrounding Camus’s car crash. He also revisits the Soviet invasion of Hungary and Camus’s connection to a pair of literary figures: the Czech writer Jan Zábrana and the Russian writer Boris Pasternak. Mr. Catelli’s case is compelling but far from ironclad, and some readers will be more convinced than others. But his book provides a clear and useful window into the currents that political writers were forced to navigate during the Cold War ... Mr. Catelli can be somewhat breathless in telling his story ... Mr. Catelli is admirable in his dogged pursuit. He strives to determine who was the source for Zábrana’s diary entry, and speculates how the Soviets could have known Camus’s itinerary that fateful day in 1960. He meets with Zábrana’s widow, Marie Zábranová, who shares candidates who might have told her husband about the Camus incident ... Ultimately, Mr. Catelli may have more to say about Camus the man and writer than Camus the murder victim.
For Giovanni Catelli, Camus’s death was no accident, but a political assassination ... Catelli intrigues but does not convince. The ratio of conjecture to fact is heavily in favour of the former. He cites no official reports of the accident and simply states that there was a cover-up ordered by French Intelligence who also wanted to silence Camus. Catelli never wonders why an operation requiring twenty-four-hour surveillance of Camus’s house was thought easier to mount in a quiet French village with nosy neighbours than in anonymous Paris.